From the #ProblemSolver Convention, No Labels' Biggest Challenge

Some follow-up thinking from the No Labels #ProblemSolver convention: in our last post we talked about the gap in addressing the "#How" that the organization recognizes is key for victory. 

Today we wanted to look at the core challenge for that approach, based on what we learned at the convention.

No Labels' strategic agenda has 4 goals for the next president and Congress:

  • Balance the budget by 2030
  • Create 25 million new jobs by 2025
  • Ensure the solvency of Social Security and Medicare for the next 75 years
  • Become energy independent by 2024

It wants to do that through encouraging both presidential candidates and other Americans to put aside partisan differences and work together. Great.

The Presidential candidates that came to speak didn't stay quite on topic, but that's not surprising.

What was more surprising was the behavior of the audience. I'll use an example to illustrate the core challenge afoot:

Donald Trump's speech was a lightning rod, perhaps not surprisingly. But his speech was a tone-down of his usual, and he spent most of his time talking about his past experience in picking up broken projects and uniting some disagreeing sides to make rapid progress. He talked at length about his negotiation skills, which he thinks are key to getting bipartisan support. 

When question time came, the audience just got up and promoted their own partisan agendas or sacred cows. One person asked Trump what he would do about student debt. Another asked if he would double the size of AmeriCorps. Another asked about the VA. Nobody at all asked anything about the strategic agenda, or about how Trump might unite the Republicans and Democrats. 

Most strikingly, a woman (who might have been a Jeb Bush plant) said that Trump was "not a friend of women," (which got a rousing cry from the audience and someone to scream to Trump, "you're fired!") and then asked him if he was president, "will a woman make the same as a man, and will I get to choose what I do with my body?" More wild cheering. More jeers.

Trump then said that she would make the same if she did as good a job, and that he was pro-life, which he mumbled quietly in order to move on. Lots of booing, more jeers.

"What's the problem?" One might ask. It's probably not surprising that a mostly New Hampshire crowd tends to be pro-choice. 

There are a few problems:

1) The crowd embraced, rather than rejected, making divisive topics part of the conversation. The point of No Labels is to look for the common ground we have and work with it, and that's why the strategic agenda exists. It wasn't the time or place to blast Trump about disagreeing with you on abortion.

2) The crowd showed that it had zero immunity to tribal politics. One rogue questioner jumping from the agenda into women's issues is one thing. But the bulk of the crowd getting emotional and screaming when they heard an answer they didn't like is alarming. It's not that it was a surprise to anyone that Trump is pro-life. This wasn't a shock. They simply quickly fell back into playing the roles that they've been assigned: you're pro-choice, so you have to freak out if you hear someone say that they are pro-life. Civility is not allowed, even in a place where you showed up in order to promote civility. 

3) The reaction of the crowd suggested that they have no interest in trying to find a way to work with Trump if he gets elected. Part of the core reasoning of No Labels is that whoever gets elected president, there are going to be people that don't like them. Our habit as a nation is to shut down and refuse to work with these people, and that hurts the nation, dearly. This crowd's behavior suggested it would do just that if Trump was elected, rather than finding a way to work with him.

So the crowd showed that it was largely incapable of embracing the No Labels ideals, mindset, and culture. And this crowd is supposed to be a cut above the rest: these are people that came to a convention promoting these ideals, and presumably they would be more prone to embrace them. My cynical side says that such a convention is a great way to feel superior without having to make any changes deep down, but I still figure that this crowd is likely to be "above average" with respect to capacity to put aside hyperpartisanship.

And if I'm right, it suggests there is a massive challenge ahead for No Labels, and the organization is not yet addressing it: if even many of No Labels' evangelists are simply hardcore partisans that are unwilling or unable to adopt No Labels' precepts, how the heck is the organization going to get the rest of the country on board?


Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.